Organizations that celebrated terrorist attacks against Israelis and support boycotting Israel have advised Meta, Facebook’s parent company, on its content moderation regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
A report from NGO Monitor, which researches the activities and funding of organizations active in relation to the conflict and Israel, found that Meta and BSR, a company hired to evaluate its policies, had extensive interactions – regarding making decisions about what constitutes incitement against Israel – with organizations such as Human Rights Watch and 7amleh (pronounced “hamleh”) that have documented histories of anti-Israel campaigning.
The result is a report by BSR recommending, among other things, that more leeway be given for posts praising the terrorist group Hamas.
Emi Palmor, former Justice Ministry director-general and the only Israeli on Meta’s 18-member Oversight Board – which is meant to be the company’s “supreme court” – said “there is no doubt [that Israelis’] voices are not heard,” in part because pro-Israel organizations and figures don’t take part in the process even when they are invited to do so.
HRW and 7amleh, however, are well organized in the effort to influence Meta, leading an effort accusing the social media giant of silencing Palestinians and demanding a change in content moderation. They also appealed to the Oversight Board, which led the board to recommend that Facebook commission an independent report on the matter.
The company undertook a review of its policies following the May 2021 conflict between Israel and Palestinian terrorists and rioting in mixed Jewish-Arab cities in Israel. Facebook removed content promoting violence and supporting Hamas that was in violation of its community standards, which the NGOs said means they were silencing the Palestinians.
7amleh calls itself an “advocate for Palestinian digital rights,” but regularly celebrates terrorists and attacks against Israelis. It also advocates for boycotts of Israel and campaigned to have Palmor removed from the board. 7amleh is a “trusted partner” of Meta when it comes to content-related decisions in the region and a member of Twitter’s “Trust and Safety Council.”
7amleh has a history of supporting terrorism against Israel
The NGO and its officials have repeatedly and publicly supported terrorism against Israel. 7amleh criticized Zoom for canceling an event hosting Leila Khaled, a hijacker and member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which is designated a terrorist group in the US, EU and Israel. The group lauded Sabri Khalil Al-Banna, leader of the Abu Nidal terrorist organization, and deceased PFLP leader Ghassan Kanafani as “distinguished Palestinian personalities.”
Board member Neveen Abu Rahmoun called the barrage of Hamas rockets on Israel in May 2021 “the popular uprising,” saying that “all Palestinians have come together.” When the operation ended, Abu Rahmoun praised “Gaza the powerful… with their combative action, [they] surpassed the political leadership and returned to us the meaning of Palestinian togetherness.”
Human Rights Watch has long engaged in international campaigns against Israel, including labeling it an apartheid state, denying that Jewish people have the right of self-determination and calling for boycott campaigns against Israeli banks, sports teams and others. One of its founders famously criticized the organization for being obsessed with Israel, while not paying enough attention to major human rights violators.
Former HRW employees worked at Meta as it undertook the review of Israel-related content moderation. Director of Human Rights Policy Initiatives Iain Levine was HRW deputy executive director when it called for boycotts against Israel. While Director of Global Human Rights Policy Miranda Sissons was a researcher for HRW, she was arrested in a raid by Israeli security forces on the International Solidarity Movement’s offices after its activists met with a terrorist who carried out a suicide bombing.
Meta Human Rights Manager Gabrielle Guillemin was a lawyer at Article 19, an organization involved in the NGO campaign against the company’s content moderation policies during the May 2021 conflict, and was hired while the review of those policies was being conducted.
As part of its campaign against the policies, a 7amleh representative accompanied Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh to a meeting with Facebook Head of Global Affairs and Communications Nick Clegg to lament “shrinking the Palestinian digital space and contributing to violating Palestinians’ human rights.” HRW sent letters to the same end to former colleagues Sissons and Levine. The organizations also petitioned the Oversight Board, as did other like-minded groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace, the Foundation for Middle East Peace, and the Arab Resource and Organizing Center, claiming Facebook has an anti-Palestinian bias.
Facebook hired BSR, a consulting firm “focused on creating a world in which all people can thrive on a healthy planet” to review the impact of Meta’s policies in May 2021. It published its report titled “Human Rights Due Diligence of Meta’s Impacts in Israel and Palestine” in September 2022.
Despite mentioning the impact on Israel in its title, NGO Monitor found that “the degree to which affected Israeli rightsholders and stakeholders, particularly victims of rocket attacks from Gaza and violence within Israeli cities, were involved in any degree in writing this report is unclear.”
The Jerusalem Post independently corroborated that the report lacks information on this parameter, but learned that the Israeli Justice Ministry was informed about the process. BSR chose who to interview for the report, though Meta made recommendations, and those choices were kept confidential. Facebook Israel was not involved in the report.
NGO Monitor pointed out “the absence of information on this critical dimension, and the overall partisanship in BSR’s report, raising fundamental questions regarding the efficacy of this process.”
Though not directly involved in the report, Palmor said that when it comes to the Oversight Board process, Israelis must get more involved. She has appealed to NGOs, academics and government figures for the three years since the board was founded, and few have taken the time to send their comments on cases before the board.
“The Oversight Board wants stakeholder engagement on all topics,” Palmor said. “Israeli organizations are not interested and don’t participate. I tried over the years to interest different organizations and they were indifferent.”
Weeks after publication, 7amleh hosted BSR vice president Dunstan Allisan-Hope in a webinar where they acknowledged working together as the report was compiled. The NGO’s Advocacy Advisor Mona Shtaya said that she was in contact with Allison-Hope during BSR’s “independent evaluation,” and Allison-Hope said “a lot of credit must go to civil society organizations and activists” for forcing Meta’s response to the report.
HRW and 7amleh, together with three Palestinian NGOs designated as terrorist groups – Al-Haq, Addameer and DCI-P – signed a letter thanking BSR for its review.
BSR asserted in its report that Meta must avoid “reinforcing power asymmetries” because Israel “has greater administrative, financial, and military might vis-a-vis Palestinian political institutions.” The report does not make clear why the relative strength of the State of Israel compared to the Palestinian Authority should impact policies on incitement to violence or terrorism not carried out by the PA.
The consultancy company also fully adopts the Palestinian narrative, without any explanation of Israel’s side, claiming: “This outbreak occurred in the context of Israeli occupation of the West Bank and increased tensions relating to the expansion of Israeli settlements and the eviction of Palestinian communities.” The report says fighting was “triggered by protests in East Jerusalem over the eviction of Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood,” but not repeated Palestinian attacks on Jews during the period preceding the conflict and the role of Hamas incitement at the time.
BSR does mention WhatsApp groups “used by right-wing Israelis… to incite violence.” Its timeline states that Israeli police “enter Al-Aksa during prayer,” without noting the stockpiles of weapons in the mosque or attacks emanating from it. No reference is made to the lynching of Jewish Israelis or attacks on Jewish-owned businesses by Israeli Arabs.
The company also suggests that Meta allow posts praising Hamas, a terrorist group, if they were written in Gaza, because Hamas governs the area. The report characterizes such posts as “political content.”
Meta is currently evaluating BSR’s recommendations and plans to publish an update in the coming weeks.
NGO Monitor called on Meta to stop working with 7amleh and to no longer rely on its publications. In addition, the watchdog group said that the social media company should require consulting firms like BSR to publicize the names of the organizations with which they worked, in order to enable Meta to better evaluate their reports.
“This record seriously undermines the objectivity and credibility of Meta’s content moderation review and consulting processes, particularly in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” said NGO Monitor president Prof. Gerald Steinberg. “It is unclear what, if any, mechanisms exist to ensure that organizations and individuals who post violent material to Facebook are disqualified from participating in and influencing policy-making consultations.
“In a wider sense, this analysis documents the degree to which policy-making at Meta is susceptible to influence by political advocacy NGOs,” Steinberg said. “Similarly, the company, including the Oversight Board – or partners such as BSR – do not appear to employ safeguards to avoid manipulation through partisan publications and statements promoted by politicized NGOs under context-determined normative labels such as human rights.”